Clashes spread in South Africa

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com

JO­HAN­NES­BURG, South Africa — At­tacks against im­mi­grants in South Africa spread Fri­day to the largest city, Jo­han­nes­burg, rais­ing fear of a week­end of vi­o­lence in tense town­ships.

Hun­dreds of im­mi­grants fled their homes and took shel­ter in po­lice sta­tions in sev­eral ar­eas of the coun­try as mobs at­tacked for­eignowned busi­nesses and burned cars in the Jeppestown neigh­bor­hood east of Jo­han­nes­burg.

The Kenyan gov­ern­ment said it would repa­tri­ate its cit­i­zens in South Africa for their safety, af­ter Malawi’s gov­ern­ment be­gan re­turn­ing Malaw­ians to their home coun­try.

SA­SOL, an oil and petro­chem­i­cals com­pany, evac­u­ated 350 South African work­ers from a plant in Mozam­bique amid fears of reprisals for the at­tacks on for­eign­ers in South Africa.

For years, South Africa has strug­gled to con­tain vi­o­lent at­tacks against mi­grants from else­where in Africa and from coun­tries such as Pak­istan and Bangladesh, in par­tic­u­lar those who own shops and busi­nesses in town­ships. With un­em­ploy­ment stub­bornly high, lo­cals ac­cuse the im­mi­grants of steal­ing jobs and un­der­cut­ting small busi­nesses owned by South Africans.

In 2008, 62 peo­ple were killed in a wave of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks in town­ships around Jo­han­nes­burg. Vi­o­lence oc­ca­sion­ally ex­pands into wide­spread may­hem, but low-level as­saults on im­mi­grant shop­keep­ers oc­cur fre­quently in many parts of the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The south­east­ern coastal town of Dur­ban saw ri­ots and loot­ing re­cently as mobs at­tacked im­mi­grant-op­er­ated busi­nesses and some for­eign­ers armed them­selves for pro­tec­tion.

Busi­ness groups have warned that the vi­o­lence could lead to a back­lash against South Africa and its com­pa­nies’ op­er­a­tions else­where on the con­ti­nent.

Im­mi­grants shut their shops in many parts of Jo­han­nes­burg on Fri­day, and some packed their be­long­ings and left, fear­ing a week­end of vi­o­lence. Po­lice fired rub­ber bul­lets to dis­perse mobs in Jeppestown.

At least five peo­ple have been killed in the vi­o­lence that be­gan in Dur­ban last week. The at­tacks fol­lowed com­ments by the Zulu king, Good­will Zwelithini, who last month called for for­eign­ers to leave the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have called for a halt to the at­tacks, and dozens of peo­ple have been ar­rested.

Theko Pha­rasi, Gaut­eng prov­ince’s deputy po­lice com­mis­sioner, said Fri­day that mes­sages were cir­cu­lat­ing on cell­phones and so­cial me­dia warn­ing of at­tacks.

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